Her Bad Mother

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex

Some time before WonderBaby was born, my husband and I had a conversation about what it was going to be like to have a daughter. I asked him whether he thought he might find it challenging, as a man, to raise a girl. No, he said. Not at all. Except…

Except what?

Except that I’m bracing myself, I guess.

For what?

For more pain, than if we had a boy. For getting my heart broken.

I knew what he meant. He wasn’t talking about losing her, one day, to the great big world beyond childhood and family - to life on her own, to lovers, to a spouse, to adulthood. That was a given, a pain that we didn’t need to brace ourselves against, a pain that we had already accepted, even though it was so far off. He was afraid of not being able to protect her from the darker forces of a world that would likely try to take her from us too soon – that would take her childhood, her innocence, too soon.

He was talking about all of the terrible things that the world can do to girls (which is not to say that boys are invulnerable, only that we usually believe girls to be more vulnerable), about all of the dangers and all of the threats that shape parents' nightmares, the things that we all want to plug our ears and shut our eyes against. But he was also talking about the more insidious ways that the world conspires to steal our daughters' innocence.

He was talking about the influence of this sort of thing:


And this:


And, God help us, this:


The knee-jerk response to this - my knee-jerk response to this - is to want to hide your children from the world, to protect them from the world, to protect them from the influence of Britney and Lindsay and Paris and Bratz Dollz and (god dear god crop tops with saucy diapers and chain-linked bottles) Baby Bratz Dollz and Pussycat Dolls.

The knee-jerk response is to want to keep them innocent forever, to want to do anything, anything at all that will keep them innocent forever. But that's not necessarily the answer - as Rebecca of Girl's Gone Child reminded us all the other day, our children need to learn how to navigate this world. We don't necessarily help them by keeping them from it, or it from them. We need to mediate their relationship to the world and everything in it, certainly, but do we help them by censoring it?

I'm still undecided about where, exactly, I draw the line between mediation and censorship in helping my children navigate the often choppy and mostly murky waters of this world that we live in. But what I do know is this: I not only want to preserve my daughter's innocence for as long as is reasonable (how long this is, is another question), I want to her to come to understand herself as a physical and, eventually, sexual being innocently. Does that make sense? I want her understanding of herself as a sexual being to unfold naturally, healthily, innocently - I don't want it forced upon her. I don't want it imposed upon her by popular culture or by peer pressure or - dear god - by another human being.

I don't want her to be confused by or misinformed about human sexuality. As I was. If I want my daughter to be powerful as a woman - and I do - I need to ensure that she understands herself (in the healthiest way possible) as a powerful physical being. She needs to understand her own sexuality.

So, I end up caught between a rock and a hard place. Protect her from becoming sexualized, but encourage her to understand and embrace her own sexuality. On this issue, I am at a loss.

What to do, what to do...?

I know! Let's ask Gloria Steinem!

Us:* How do we – as women and mothers and feminists – find a balance between embracing and being empowered by our own sexuality and protecting our girls from the effects of a hyper-sexualized culture that seems to encourage them to use their sexuality in all the wrong ways?

Gloria: We have a power that the media doesn’t: the power of an all-five-senses example. If our daughters see us behaving as sexual and whole in a positive way – if we don’t allow ourselves to be treated as we wouldn’t want our daughters to be treated – that’s truly subversive. If we don’t give up ourselves for male approval, or “Uncle Tom” by treating men as more important than they are, or complain about our bodies every time we pass a mirror, our daughters will know they don’t have to either. They may go underground for a while and conform to the media or their peers, but they will always know there’s another way. Also, I think we can link kids’ sense of fairness to sex. Why should girls be more judged by appearance than boys? Why are our bodies ornaments while theirs are instruments? Why should girls perform oral sex on boys – what kind of unequal pleasure is that?

I love this answer (and I love her for taking the time to answer it) - but, I'll be honest, it also frustrates me. She's absolutely correct that we are the best examples for our daughters - but what if we are still struggling with our own sexuality? On a cultural level, I'm thinking of all of the women my own age that I regularly see who seem to be modelling themselves on Bratz Dolls - if these women are or become mothers, they're going to be raising a whole generation of little tartlets.

On a personal level, it's even more complicated. I still have lingering issues about my body, and issues about my sexuality. This isn't the forum for them, but they're there. And I'm terrified of passing these on to my daughter. I have some miles to go before I will feel fully confident about modelling 'whole and positive' sexuality and body confidence to my daughter. But I need to get there.

What do you think? About her answer, or about the general dilemma? I'm looking for more guidance here, people...

Because Mother's bathing costume looks exactly like this one...

*This question was an amalgamation of a the questions submitted by Izzy and Penelope. I compiled a second question from a few more of your questions, which she also answered (nice lady!), and I'll post it next week. In the meantime, check out these other blogs, which will likely have their question/responses posted soon:

Jen Satterwhite of Mommy Needs Coffee; Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation; Leah Peterson of Leah Peah; Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored; Ingrid Wiese of Three New York Women; Sarah Brown of Que Sera Sera; Stolie of Funky Brown Chick; Liz of Mom-101.

46 Comments:

Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

YES! WOW! Great answer. I must say, though, I think we should ask ourselves this question as well as Ms. Steinem.

Today I posted about this topic as inspired by my last topic: women and our sexuality as in sex is NOT taboo or something to be ashamed of, embarassed of.

I TOTALLY agree that it sends our children the wrong message to be so self-critical... Shouldn't a positive body image include a postive SEXUAL body image? Isn't it just as important?

Great post. Great question.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Lance said...

As a relatively new father of twin girls I don't think I know what I can expect. I do know this, I will be following these rules when it comes to them dating.

Rules for boys dating my teenage daughters:
Rule #1; You make her cry, I make you cry.
Rule #2; You stick anything in her, I stick something much bigger in you.

They may seem crude but I think they will be effective.

10:35 PM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

As usual, great post. I have recently posted about body image but I didn't even consider the additional problem of sexuality with it.

And that doll is just scary. That's the first time I've seen anything like it.

10:39 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Great question.

I don't really have an answer to your question, but I guess if we want to model positive sexuality, we have to face head on and deal with any lingering issues we have with our own sexuality. They don't go away by themselves. How do that, I don't know.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

My bathing costume looks like that, too. I think the message it sends my daughter is, "Boys don't spend hours primping before they go swimming. And girls don't have to, either."

11:28 PM  
Blogger braiding mommy said...

Great post and great question. It's hard to want to be a perfect (or even good) example to our daughters when we aren't perfect and immune from these things ourselves - but will we ever be? Is that possible? I struggle with many of the same issues that you mentioned. I don't know if I will ever fully overcome my vulnerability to the media and reoccuring doubts about sex, self-image, etc. My mother is amazing - she appears to be uneffected by the pressures on women's appearance - but growing up, I did care about my appearance, and kind of felt bad or like she disapproved because of that. Is that better for kids? I don't know. I think through all of these issues, it's key to keep an open, age appropriate discussion going with our children. Sometimes I think its ok to show our kids that we aren't perfect and we still struggle with these difficulties in life.

11:33 PM  
Blogger margalit said...

Excellent question. As the parent of a 14 year old girl who is attractive and has had boyfriends, this is a hot topic in our house. As Gloria mentioned, I'm not the type of mom that imitates the Bratz dolls. I've tried hard to show my children that what's inside is way more important than the outside. I've tried to make my daughter happy with her body the way it is, so that she isn't so obsessed and mortified by her curves as many of her friends.

But the problem is, at this age, kids are much more swayed by peer pressure than they are by parental suggestion. Even though I do what I can to ensure that my daughter has a healthy attitude towards sex, a topic that is always open for discussion in our house, but I also want her to understand that dressing slutty and trying to look enticing to boys can get her into particular situations that she can't really deal with. It's already happened a couple of times, and fortunately she's come out of it unscathed.

I guess I'd add to Gloria's comments that you have to be open and communicative every single day about sex and sexuality, dating, and things that you're too young to handle right now. Being open and honest with your daughters has been the thing that has kept my girl's self-esteem up as she deals with some of the more scummy teenage boys out there.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Annie, The Evil Queen said...

Even with a son, I find this an important question. I want him to respect women and to be comfortable with himself. I also don't want him to think he has to run out and have sex to prove himself. Please God, that this "pimpin'" phase of our culture is over by then.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

I think we need to define "whole and positive sexuality" first before we can think about how to model it for our daughters. It's seems like it would be pretty subjective but in general, what does that term mean? Because maybe I'm already doing it. But maybe I'm not. I really don't know.

As for body image, I bitch about it on my blog but I never say anything negative about myself around my kids. And when one of those ubiquitous diet commercials comes on TV, I make a point of telling my daughter that you should only try to lose weight to be more healthy, that health is the true goal of watching what you eat or going on a diet.

At six, she seems pretty uninterested in all of it but my hope is that if I say it enough, it will lodge in her subconscious and counteract the media onslaught she will soon face as she matures and spends less and less time under my proverbial wing.

12:08 AM  
Blogger OSarah said...

Hi Catherine!

I was petrified to have a daughter for many of these reasons. Was I ready to be a role model? Could I, with my neuroses and insecurities and flaws be a Good One?

I'm sure I could muddle through, but really, is muddling good enough? It's a huge and frightening question.

I think the only thing we can do is to keep working at it. It's not a solution, I admit.

In many ways, having a son is easier because I am more confident in my husband than myself. In my insecure mind, he is in all ways better suited to this role model business than I.

1:36 AM  
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4:30 AM  
Blogger jchevais said...

I guess that we, as mothers, are empowered while our daughters are little to control some of the information that comes their way in terms of the image that we have of ourselves but also in the toys that we choose to give our children.

Toys for girls make me angry. Really angry. What kind of choice do we have really between the Bratz junk that send all the wrong signals about sexuality and the vaccuums/ironing boards/kitchen sinks that send signals about what "women's work" is?

Who designs these toys? arrgh. Christmases and birthdays are torture for me.

I usually opt for board games with my daughter and I've pointedly told the family that any toy that even hints at being a brainwashing tool for my daughter will be going into the bin.

6:40 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

Lance- my friend has come up with some rules for when our girls start dating: Kill the first one and let word get around.

Seriously though this is a great post, and GS gave great answers. It's something that I am dealing with right now. I have been struggling with body image but I won't say anything negative about my body in front of my daughter, I never had. I also refuse to let her have Bratz dolls and when she asked why I told her I wanted her role models to show her that she's capable of doing great things. It's hard though.

There was an amazing Frontline about the whole sexualized marketing to kids a while ago. If I can remember the name I'll you know.

9:01 AM  
Blogger penelopeto said...

Fantastic hybrid question - one that I am looking for an answer to as well.
when I was pregnant, chris always joked that he wanted a girl, but only until she was 12. then he'd trade her for a boy.

I don't have the answer, but my sister, who is mother to an 8-year old shed a bit of light on it: she says that you generally have until your daughter is 7 or 8 to instill the values, sense of self-esteem, etc. that you want. then there is a shift - her friends take their place as primary influence. she starts to absorb more from them than from you.
and there are some things you can't hide from - they live in a tiny commmunity in the mountains, and still my neice comes home from (alternative, totally hippie) school singing 'my humps.'

9:12 AM  
Blogger Waya said...

This parenting thing is SO SO HARD, isn't it?! I have two boys and one girl and our method of parenting is to do the best that we can. We try not to be too critical with ourselves, fight in front of the children, everything in moderation kind of teaching. And we're just hoping some things will stick as they grow up.

Peer pressure, society pressure will always be there...but I'm just hoping that our teachings will go a long way, as our parents' teachings have done for me.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I'd like to comments-crash, if you don't mind...

My daughter is 6, so I've had some practice working around this very struggle for a while.

A few years ago, I realized that I've never had an issue with being honest with her about how different people have different tolerances for certain things (violence, swearing, sex, Tabasco sauce), here's my level of tolerance for said thing, and let's talk about it.

What was hard for me is that there is a presumption that we *should* - my very least favorite word - be "sexual and whole in a positive way," and I kept getting stuck on that word, "positive." Because I'm not always positive, optimistic or happy about my own sexuality, and yet I felt this pressure to present myself, in Good Role Model fashion, as such.

Then I decided that the part of that statement that is more important to me is the word "whole." There's not much out there that's always positive, and in fact I tend to mistrust things that claim to be. Part of my whole sexuality is dealing with the frumpy/insecure/weird days, and part of my job as mother to my daughter is to show her how to work through those days, too.

There are plenty of heartbreaks in store, and I've never been ready for the ones that have happened so far (there is a Mean Girl at the bus stop, who is 7. SEVEN.), so why would I think I'll be ready for the next one? But we've coped thus far... we'll continue to muddle through.

10:01 AM  
Blogger jen said...

i think gloria's response is right on, but it's still damn scary, especially during those years where girls will typically despise anything about us.

The heartbreak is inevitable..my hope and desire is for M to be as comfortable in her own skin as possible, and that starts with us.

But it's much more goddamned complicated than that.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

I agree with Izzy's point that we need to define our terms, and also with Kate's personal working definition of those terms. I especially like Kate's point that we have to help our girls navigate those days when - for whatever reason - they AREN'T feeling positive about themselves (looks, mind, social standing, etc.).

But in doing so, I think the best place to start is by NOT denigrating ourselves - especially in terms of looks - and by being honest with our daughters when they inevitably question their own looks.

And yes - I say inevitably, having reassured my older daughter when she was not yet three after a child care classmate told her she was ugly. Maybe - hopefully - it won't happen so early for others, but it will happen.

11:03 AM  
Blogger tania (urban_mommy) said...

Rich topic, lots to say.

We all have baggage that we obsess about and some of it will, unfortunately, probably never be resolved. We have to parent through it, never let our children hear of those subjects from us. I think this is an important point. I think parents sometimes make the mistake of over-repeating a message reverse to the one they were sent (and are still trying to get over) as a way to ensure their baggage doesn't get passed on. Problem is, this creates a fixation on the topic, despite their best intentions. For example, in my experience, my mother, who is a large woman, constantly told me weight didn't matter. All the time. The consequence is that I was always aware of weight issues, they were always present. Had she never mentioned weight, I might not have thought about it so often - although I have to say, her message came through. Still, I'm really in favour of keeping any topic related to your 'issues' off the table with your kids. Altogether. Let your partner field those ones.

A more complex issue about girls and sexuality is what to do when girls mix up messages, even the positive ones. They understand that they can be like boys and use their bodies like instruments, not ornaments, but they choose to do it through their sexuality. I hear this a lot: young women who view using their sexualty to get what they want as an empowering, feminist idea. Hmm...For adult women this may be alright - I said maybe - but for young girls, I think its a disaster.

11:03 AM  
Blogger gingajoy said...

great question, C. And I think the response is also affirming. I think Steinmen would be the first to agree that there is profound ambivalence connected to this issue--it's the nature of the beast. But these self-affirming measures are necessary first steps.

for instance--i am a lover of the skirted bathing suit. I admit I have issues with my bottom (see latest post on return of skinny pants;-)) On the other hand, I work to try and choose stylish clothes that suit my body type, and make me feel confident in who I am and how I look (and no, I do not feel this way all the time--far from it).
I love heels, even though I know that in some ways they are a modern day version of the victorian corset in terms of women's lib. But when I wear heels I feel more poised and confident--powerful. (not that I say heels=power for all women. hells no).

There's no esaping culture. There's no such thing as "being" separate from that culture--all we can do is work to empower ourselves within those terms. Like others have commented--we need to navigate through the crap, and show our daughters and sons how to (my huz just called me to inform me that my 4 yr old boy has declared himself "fat." fucking great.) and make sure that even while we embrace a nice lipstick and a pair of stilletoes (or a pair of birks and a weave) this does not mean we are allowing ourselves to be demeaned.

we want Steinem to give us a neater answer, but there ain't one that we can all accommodate.

11:22 AM  
Blogger CPA Mom said...

Nothing profound to say but wanted to give you this link to a related post. http://queenofspainblog.com/2006/09/22/madame-cindy-crawford/

12:03 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

I love your question (as you know) and your thoughts on this as well as hers, of course. And agree entirely, that I think we, our generation, is every bit as conflicted which is what's leading us to ask these kinds of questions. On one hand I want to say "all women are beautiful! More cellulite in the magazines! Down with boob jobs!" But on the other hand, I'm thinking oh my God, look at how horrible my body looks and what it's doing to my self-esteem.

Maybe we have to fix ourselves first. And quickly. Before we pass is on to those we least want to pass it to.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

As someone who was not given the right kind of education about sex, and my place in the world as a girl who would become a woman, I intend to arm my daughter, or son with information.
I want to share age appropriate truths with my child so that they will know the world for what it is and know how to navigate it with my help and then someday on their own.
I want my child to know that they are allowed to protect themselves. I want to teach them to trust their instincts and instill a level of trust and communication so that they will never be ashamed to talk with me or Jeff about questions or doubts.
I'll teach my daughter or son to respect themselves and to respect others regardless of their gender or ethnicity or religious background.
I'll teach my child that their body belongs to them and that they are responsible for taking care of it. I'll teach them about boundaries and when and how to say no.
I'll tell them that they can do and be whatever they set their mind to and I will help them achieve their goals to the best of my ability.
And for as long as I can, I will do my best to protect and shield them from images in pop culture because I don't think that children need to be exposed to Paris and the Pussycat Dolls and the violence in children's programming and on the news and the sexualization of small children in both of those places.

I think I have my work cut out for me.

12:16 PM  
Blogger cinnamon gurl said...

For women struggling with body image (are there any who aren't?): I highly highly recommend a book called _Fat! So?_ by Marilyn Wann.

12:39 PM  
Blogger ECR said...

I find even in these comments a very strong ambivalence toward sex. It seems that there is almost a fear of what the phrase "sexual and whole in a positive way" can mean. We skirt around issues by talking about "slutty" dolls and eating disorders, but the problem goes deeper. As several of the previous commenters have indicated, and as other bloggers have recently discussed, we need to discover and embrace our own definitions. We need to become comfortable with certain realities, like breasts, vaginas, penises, and a whole assortment of sex acts that, in my opinion, need NEVER become examples of "unequal pleasure." I'd go so far as to say that sex is one of the most inherently equal things we've got going for us--but only if we claim our place as full and passionate partners.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Suz said...

To be honest with you, even though I miss buying all the cute pink things and will mourn (albiet briefly) that we'll never have a daughter, part of me is glad that we have sons. Both my sister and I inherited horrible body images from our mother and I would hate to pass that down to any daughter of mine. Working through my issues with my body will be the work of a lifetime.

While I don't think that boys are immune to media images, I think that it affects them differently. I hope to teach my boys to respect girls and other boys for their intellect, humor, and realness. Although superficiality seems to be the coin of the realm these days, I hope that my sons learn that their real value comes from themselves rather than from how they measure up against any socially mandated criteria.

12:52 PM  
Blogger something blue said...

It's interesting to think that many of today's teenagers have parents that were born during the sexual revolution.

I think if we respect ourselves and others, our children will do the same. I want my girls to know that they can trust me to be a person that they can always turn to for support and information. I will not make them feel bad about their decisions and I will always encourage them to think for themselves. In return, I will trust them. Laying down a strong foundation will help guide them to do what is right for them. Maybe this is idealistic but my parents installed this in me and it seemed to work.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Mommy off the Record said...

Great post. I really like the answer she gave. I completely agree that modeling is critical to helping our children grow up to respect themselves. So far, we only have a son, but I feel that my Husband's treatment of me and how I treat myself will go very far in how my son treats the women in his life as he gets older.

I agree with you, though, that there are challenges to this if we are still struggling with our own issues re. sexuality and sexual roles. I think that the biggest step is just knowing that we should be working on being the best model for our children that we can. And then doing it to the best of our ability. I think that is all we can ask of ourselves.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

I second (or whatever number we're up to) the Great Post.

I totally resonated with Steinem's response and then also COMPLETELY with your reaction to it.

My husband shares the worries of yours, but has gone on to say that if she grows up to love women instead of men he will be fulfilled and happy. (If she does, he will no doubt be President of PFLAG.)

3:50 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

To me it comes down to being honest with them - don't hide things like Bratz from them because they'll see them anyway, but let them know that we don't think they are appropriate and why. Let them know what our standards and values are.

I very much like the approach taken in that famous book, "Where did I came from?" which provided my sex ed as a young kid too. Basically, it says it's something that two people who love each other very much do to get as close as possible and yes, it feels good too.

That works for me. I want her to know that it is healthy and natural and okay if you are in the right relationship with the right person and it feels right to you. But that if it doesn't feel right, you owe it to yourself to wait so that it's the good experience you would hope for. That it should be up to you, and anyone who is not willing to respect your feelings on that is not likely respecting you in the other ways you'd want them too either. That you should expect that and be prepared to demand it.

6:11 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Has anyone ever heard the radio show on Female ejaculation -- get on it people??

Or is that get it on?

Ahhhnnnnnie-hhhooooo.... My daughter is two. We started our discussion of advertising today. GS is right. 'cept about the oral sex part.

http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/shows/1sexor2/index.html

6:13 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

G.l.o.r.i.a. always gives good answer it seems.

Being a Mum of two girls, one 9 and already calling herself a tween, the other almost 5 and who wants one of those Bratz Babies we all hate....I can tell you honestly that I live in fear.

I live in fear because I did it all wrong as a young (way too young) teen, and for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong guys.

As for my girls, I do not let them wear body revealing clothes except on the beach or the backyard. I am forthright, and I tell them it is tarty and inappropriate.

I too have self image issues, but they never hear it. to them, I work out to stay strong and be healthy.

Questions re 'where do babies come from' or 'do you french kiss Daddy' are answered honestly. We talk about Respect and Love going hand in hand.

I also expect there to be stumbling blocks along the road, and I am not looking forward to it.

Good luck, hope all of these comments help you.

But I expect

10:41 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

Great question. God willing I'll never have a daughter so won't be passing on my poor body image...

12:42 AM  
Blogger Mary P. said...

I have three kids: girl, almost 21; boy 17; girl 13.

I have a few comments from the perspective of the parent who's been through it/is going through it.

First, TB is dead right: it's about education and communication. Kittenpie and crazymumma are bang on, too: honesty, answering questions frankly as they arise.

Second: Just like learning to walk, learning to potty, developing language, there is a developmental growth of sex and sexuality, from naming parts to finding out what they're for, to actually using them for that purpose. As long as they're following their own internal process, not being pressured by some exterior forces (peers are MUCH more significant than media here) they'll get there safely, naturally, and healthfully, just as babies learn to walk and talk.

Third: if you've done that all along, been open, frank, respectful, they will continue to see you as a resource throughout this period. Particularly the girls. Mine do. The boy is more circumspect, but I know he's at least come close, if not actually done the deed. He also knows where the condoms are kept, just in case. The youngest is interested in boys, but it hasn't gone past the theoretical yet.

The oldest has been sexually active for three or so years now. Does she come skipping home to say, "Hey, mum, I did The Boyfriend last night!!" No, of course not. But we have had talks about sexuality - not just the teaching mom to daughter talks (those were more for a few years back) but woman to woman talks about the nature of orgasm, about differing responses, about - well, about anything!

Third: Accept that at some point, YOUR CHILD IS GOING TO HAVE SEX. (We're all somebody's kid, and we're all having sex, after all.) It's normal, it's inevitable. If done at the right time, with the right person, if it's done respectfully, then it's THEIR CHOICE.

So, to Lance and Urban-urchin, and others making that typical daddy comment ('you toucha my daughter I breaka your...uh..face) I challenge you with this thought: What if your daughter WANTS to have sex?

Which she will. Inevitably.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

ECR, your comment about there being a strong ambivalence toward sex in the comments is well-taken. That's another thorny issue - one that I know that Rebecca/GGC took on yesterday - that begs consideration. We've got a lot of hang-ups - culturally and (many of us) personally - about sex, which complicate matters when it comes to educationg our children.

Something to give more thought too...

10:45 AM  
Blogger Jozet said...

Quickly - because I only have quickly these days - love Gloria's answer.

I try to be very aware of my own outloud sefl-talk around my daughters. I try to describe people - men and women - in terms other than noticing what they are wearing, how they look. Not that this is all bad, but I try to strike a balance.

I try, try, try to keep my girls thinking about all sorts of media early on. Asking questions. Getting them to think and make their own decision about what is being shown to them. It's no good to introduce them to truly kid friendly television or reading material or advertising of any sort, and allow them to establish an unquestioning "relationship" and then later on - tweens and teen years - suddenly tell them that they need to start questioning motives - again, both good and bad - of their "best friends".

This wassn't being quick, was it, lol!

And now I have a crying baby...

Great stuff! Thank you for continuting to do this!

11:13 AM  
Anonymous abba-daddy said...

I have 2 girls and I see the troubles ahead and while fighting over brushing their teeth seems like a mountain that needs to be climbed daily, the future as girls in this over sexualized, celebrity-wannabe, Olsen-sisters-heroin look - is not that bright.
But I married their mother - a beautiful, smart, strong, sexy woman that gives daily example to my girls of how a woman should be.
The same way we don't tell our kids - say thank you and please - because we think that if they'll see us polite and kind they will want to be the same ( it works so far) - the same applies to other aspects in life - sex and who we are is included.
the future can be bright

8:51 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I do not yet have a daughter, but as a woman and a mother, this is an issue that I think about a lot.

After reading this post, it occurs to me that I really need to start being a lot more careful about the things I say regarding my physical appearance when I am around my son. Like most women in our culture, I have a hard time accepting my perfectly normal body for what it is. But if I want my son to grow up with the idea that a woman's heart, soul and brain are far more important than her looks (which I do), I can't very well let him overhear my obsessing about my own appearance, now, can I? I can censor myself, and I should work harder to do so. But I am not sure how to free myself from the underlying insecurities.

It really bothers me as the mother of a son to see things like those awful Bratz baby slut dolls and padded bras for six year old girls becoming so prevalent in our culture. I feel like the boys in my son's generation are being indoctrinated to view their female peers primarily as sexual objects practically from birth.

It's going to be challenging to raise a gentleman in this climate.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Goldstein/Kelly Kelly said...

Excellent point. Raising each gender has its challenges in this environment. Those bratz dolls make me want to punch something.

Lisa

8:11 AM  
Blogger urban-urchin said...

Mary P.
As a woman, I want my daughter to make choices about whom to share her body with after serious thought and consideration. Not because she perceives it as something she must do because that's where her worth lies. I would be extremely upset if she took part in say, a rainbow party, or something along those lines. I want her to respect herself and value herself more than that. Because yes, I was a teenager who had sex, for ALL the wrong reasons.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Ugh. I hate those Bratz babies, the big bratz and anything that tries to teach our little girls that it's cool to grow up too fast. I know exactly what your hubby meant. And I still haven't figured out how to keep her away from it all.

1:08 PM  
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6:43 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

I guess you don't want to know what happens when you search for girls. ;)

As for the main point.

Hmmm. I don't know.

Gloria's answer sounds great. It's a nice theory.

But.

I think it isn't really quite possible.

I appreciate that she doesn't exclude the fact that each search for "whole and positive sexuality" is an individual journey. And that we each find different definitions. At least, I *think* she doesn't exclude that.

I don't think "whole and positive" has to mean "outwardly accepting sexual being who is sexually active." KWIM?

And I'm sure she accepts that. Right?

I think what it all means is to find your own definition and accept and be comfortable with that. Right?

My mother set an example. I made a different decision. She decided what she thought was right, but it really meant "right for her."

My daughters are their own people. They'll become immensely vain or anti-vain, depending on which side of the issue they need to explore, at a certain age. They'll experiment in their own way, at a certain age, depending on which side of the issue they need to explore. And they'll form their own conclusions.

They'll consider my ideas and model (I hope) and will explore accepting and rejecting it.

I hope.

And in the end, they'll--through their own journey---end up at a point of what is right for them. Which might or might not be what *I* think is right. For me. I don't impose that on them. Or I try not to. Since I don't think I have "right" all sewn up in a neat little package. I just want them to feel Okay, really okay, with it. Whatever it is for them. KWIM?

So...I think...I actually sort of reject what Gloria said because it was a nice soundbyte but didn't seem to go this direction. Or maybe it did.

And while I am agreeing (per the link above) with her concept of girl ornaments versus boy instruments...I'm not positive who holds and accepts that view. Case in point, I was quite surprised by the "when you search for girls" results.

Bottom line is I'm on my own journey, and I constantly explore my currently held hypotheses and theories, so what example, in what snapshot of time and belief, will my daughters follow as a model?

I just don't think I can decide for them. I have to be there, helpfully supporting and guiding to the best of my ability.

I do have my own biases. Oh yes I do. And I'm sure I'll pass them along, but I want to encourage my kids to question. And I'll be honest. Usually, mostly, to the best of both our age-appropriate abilities.

So I agree with you when you say, "I'm still undecided about where, exactly, I draw the line between mediation and censorship in helping my children navigate the often choppy and mostly murky waters of this world that we live in." That paragraph hits it on the nose for me.

Sorry to be so long.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

OH! Rats! Comes from being interrupted. Sorry.

My point, and from your paragraph where you want sexuality to unfold innocently, is that IMO it so rarely does. It seems like these things come on with a bang, whether from an internal or external source. As with so many things, there is so little preparation that sets up for an okay "in the moment" experience. Timing. Because timing so rarely lines up for "ideal."

I want my girls at the end of the day to know that the sexuality doesn't define them. They may not get to utterly define the sexuality either. Same goes for me.

And I love them because they are utterly loveable, unconditionally, no matter what.

I don't want sex to be about power, anymore than I want it to be about violence (per GCC's post the other day). But it depends on how we mean power. So many take it to mean control.

My daughters will hopefully know themselves as Capable. Able. Loved.

And that hoepfully makes the rest...manageable.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Personally, I don't think there is any way to avoid the hyper-sensitivity to body image that comes with adolescence. It's hormonal and every girl will need to find her way through it. As Moms, we should be open, understanding, and aware.

That said, when did it become wrong to want to look your best? I dress my daughter (OK, she's two) in cute clothes and pretty bathing suits. I style her hair and tell her we're making her hair pretty. Is this going to ruin her? I think it will help her learn to take pride in her appearance, to find her own style.

Modeling behavior is essential, but it's not necessarily modeling the "I don't care what other people say, my body is fine the way it is" attitude. It's also modeling a healthy lifestyle. I am about 30 pounds overweight now and I feel the effects of it daily. And it sucks. I talk about it in front of my kids. I tell them if I eat this whole bag of cookies - like I WANT to - I'm going to gain more weight and possibly end up with diabetes because it runs in my family. I want them to know that it's important to take care of themselves and it's OK to want to look attractive. Don't we all feel better about ourselves when we look fabulous? Or am I wrong about that?

7:44 PM  
Blogger creative-Type Dad (Tony) said...

Your husband sounds a lot like me (with the influences). It's really tough for a fahter of a daughter. It's like you know information and you want to shield your own daughter from it.

12:26 PM  

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